Monday, November 28, 2011

Staight (for Straight)

It looks like straights are in curious straits these days. Linguistically speaking, that is. In fact, it's a queer kettle of fish they currently find themselves swimming in. A non-gay guy wrote to Dan Savage recently to ask whether his transsexual friends were being unreasonable by calling him "transphobic" because he had confessed to not finding MTF transsexuals as attractive as "cis females." (Otherwise, his "LGBTQA" credentials appeared to be impeccable.) Was he, he worried, a "hypocrite"? He's not transphobic, replied Dan's expert, Kate Bornstein, a transsexual woman herself. But neither should he be calling himself "straight." Rather, she says, he's a "queer heterosexual." And that's where she loses me. Bornstein is suggesting that the word "straight" no longer serve as a value-free analogue to "gay."The way she sees it, "queer" no longer simply describes one's sexual orientation, or even one's gender identity; it now speaks to personality, politics, and point of view. And, by extension, she seems to be saying, "straight" equates to narrow-minded and prejudiced. (Okay, I'll admit that the word itself has a rather uptight quality, especially when you compare it to "gay." But perhaps we should have thought of that 75 years ago when these slang terms for heterosexual and homosexual were first coined.) So whither "queer"? Is there anywhere else for it to go at this point? It's one thing to "reclaim" a word that's long been used as a cudgel by bigots; it's another to start applying it willy-nilly to anything that strikes one's PC fancy. Will white people who oppose racism become known as "queer Caucasians"? Will ecumenical Jesus followers be referred to as "queer Christians"? Will males who support feminism be called "queer..." (wait, no, that won't work). I fear this far-flung fetching of "queer" to modify anything and everything positive with regard to sexual equality and freedom is a big mistake. (And I find myself cringing over my ancient proselytizing on behalf of made-up words like "herstory," "womyn," and "wimmin" as well.) The guy who wrote Dan that letter is not a "queer heterosexual." He's a plain old heterosexual (otherwise known as straight) who happens to support queers (also known as gays, bis, and trannies). As well we certainly all should. So straighten up and fly right (this includes you queer lefties too!) and search your catalogs for today's typo, which was found six times in OhioLINK and 68 times in WorldCat. My favorite? Rainbow Times: Your Insider for the VSU LGBT Community, by the Valdosta Staight University Gay-Straigh Alliance. Straigh, by the way, gets one hit in OhioLink and 46 in WorldCat. (Note that some of these are personal names, correctly spelled.)

(The Straight Swift, who also goes by another name, the Parnara Guttata, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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